Frisco Gilchrist is retired and living in Indianapolis now, but he has worked in refugee camps before, and he takes a decidedly global view of social problems. "My pet peeve is 'God Bless U.S.A.' signs," he says to a group of 10 people gathered on a recent Saturday morning in a meeting room at the Northwestside Robin Run retirement center. "So you can imagine how happy I was the other day when I drove up behind a car and saw a bumper sticker that said, 'God bless the whole world - no exceptions."
Bread for the World local coordinator Dave Miner
The room breaks into applause. Frisco goes on. "We need to remember that there is a real need and real hunger all over the world, and we can't just worry about ourselves."
The folks gathered at Robin Run do more than just remember the global poverty problem, they act to solve it. They are one of the Indianapolis-area Bread for the World groups that meet monthly to lobby lawmakers to address hunger-related issues in local communities and around the world.
While Frisco is speaking, local Bread for the World organizer Dave Miner, a volunteer whose day job is in management at Eli Lilly, hands out background material on current anti-hunger initiatives. The group settles into writing letters urging Sen. Richard Lugar to co-sponsor the Hunger-Free Communities Act. Later, Lugar decides he will sponsor the bill. Meanwhile, Miner reports on the Millennium Challenge Account and other global anti-poverty initiatives the group has been pushing for.
Bread for the World describes itself as a "Christian citizens movement" for ending hunger. It is a movement that does not let noble goals get in the way of no-nonsense political lobbying. "Our government is the most powerful in the world, and we are very fortunate to be citizens of this country," Miner says. "As Christians, we use our citizenship to be sure that the needs of the poor and hungry are heard in the halls of Congress along with those more rich and powerful."
Miner says that the Bread for the World activism is not in opposition to traditional anti-hunger charity help like food pantries, soup kitchens and foreign relief efforts. Instead, Bread's lobbying is a recognition that the scope of the problem demands a broader approach, too. So the organization leverages its 30 years of experience and 54,000 nationwide members, along with a coalition of other anti-hunger groups, to generate congressional and media attention for supporting the poorest of the poor.
"The government's programs can and should be complementary to volunteer efforts," Miner says. "Bread focuses on lobbying Congress and the president because the actions of our federal government are extremely important to hungry people. Were the government to stop supporting domestic food programs, for example, all of the churches in the land would not be able to make up for it.
"Or consider the success of food banks such as Gleaner's in providing emergency food. Where would they be without the tax breaks for donations that the government provides as incentives for corporations to give unwanted food to the banks?"
In Indianapolis, there are two active Bread for the World groups and two more fledgling efforts, one of which will meet in the evenings. A lunchtime group meets at the downtown Bazbeaux restaurant the first Wednesday of every month.
One recent lunchtime meeting included a realtor, a minister, two lawyers and a couple of retired teachers. Roger Howard, the realtor, pushes aside his lunch and starts writing his letter to Sen. Evan Bayh. "If he is going to run for president, I want him to think about hunger as a priority. It is a second-tier issue for most politicians," Howard says.
Reflecting Bread for the World's twin characteristics of idealism and political pragmatism, Howard takes pen to paper and links the anti-hunger effort to the better-funded quest by the Bush Administration to export U.S.-style government to the poorer areas of the world. "We talk a lot about building democracies abroad," Howard says. "But if people are having difficulty putting food on the table, they are not going to be able to organize that way."
For more information about Bread for the World, check www.bread.org or contact Dave Miner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-876-1967